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Center Identification Number:  576-08

Project Title:  Strategies for an Intra-Urban Circulator System

Principal Investigators:      

Victoria Perk, Senior Research Associate



Martin Catala, Research Associate


Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida

Tampa, Florida


External Project Contact:      

Ike Ubaka


I.    Project Objective

This study will develop a research synthesis by identifying key strategies for developing an intra-urban trolley/circulator system along with effective operating strategies.  Because of growing interest in both large and small urban communities for a circulator system, most of which are attempting to reintroduce trolleys in downtown cores, it is important that such urban communities are provided with ample information on potential strategies from which to develop their respective system objectives.


II.    Project Abstract

Currently, there are several urban communities that have implemented trolley/circulators or are in the process of developing such services.  Some organizations in Florida that operate trolleys (St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa) have specifically expressed interest to obtain a resource that identifies key features for successful performance of an urban circulator.  Similarly, a commuter assistance organization in Boston area has expressed interest in characteristics of successful systems.  The study will develop a synthesis of existing trolley systems in Florida and other select systems around the country.  The study will further identify key characteristics for developing an effective trolley system as well as critical operating strategies.  The final product will provide general guidelines from which individual Florida communities and others across the country or elsewhere can develop systems unique to their needs.

In general, proponents of central business development and smart growth have been some of the supporters of shuttle systems in downtown cores.  Because of nostalgia and their historical experiences, one of the most favored modes has been the trolley (fixed & non fixed guide-way).  Developers view such systems as means for increasing access to downtown businesses while smart growth proponents view it as a means of revitalizing the downtowns to slow the rate of sub-urbanization.

However, while several urban communities have recently implemented trolley services, or are in the process of developing one, currently there are no such guidelines to use in the implementation and operation of the service.  Therefore, case studies identifying key elements of successful practices will be an important resource for these entities.


III.    Task Descriptions

Task 1:    Research Review

This task will involve a comprehensive review of current downtown circulator systems, including research reports, existing service design and operating guidelines, and other related resources. The research review process will involve two concurrent activities, 1) review of current literature and 2) review of current practices.

Subtask 1.1:    Literature Review:

To avoid reinvention of the process, the literature review will similarly identify methodologies and findings, if any, from past studies to serve as a starting point for the research. This will help refine specific gaps and deficiencies in the existing body of knowledge. If not available, the study will attempt to develop such a process.  Further review of literature will continue throughout most of the research process to supplement any new findings from the surveys.

Subtask 1.2:    Review of Current Practices:

This study will identify and document specific study methods that have been used with the goal of replicating suitable methodologies for comparative purpose. The process will involve preliminary collection of information from Florida circulator system operators to provide an inside scope of current practices with the goal of identifying key features to include in the survey.  The process will mainly involve collection of written materials.

Task 3: Surveys of Circulator System Operators

As part of this project, the study will collect primary and secondary data from a variety of sources including circulator system operators in the state of Florida and other select systems from various parts of the country.  Specifically, the study will seek to collect data from several operators and/or organizations to include, but not limited to, 1) transit and other rideshare agencies, 2) tour service operators, and 3) other related public service providers.  At the minimum, the variables for research analysis will include: (1) system goals and objectives, (2) service development principles, (3) vehicle type & technology, (4) service design criteria; (5) service operation characteristics, (6) operation partnerships and support, (7) service marketing and promotional strategies, and (8) service evaluation process.  Therefore, the type of data to be solicited will include both qualitative and quantitative information such as ridership and financial performance goals, policy objectives, and other anecdotal information.

Task 4: Analyses of Findings

Findings from the literature review and surveys will be analyzed both qualitatively and quantitatively to determine the nature of circulator system operations both nationally and in Florida.

Task 5: Final Reports

The product of this investigation will be a synthesis of current practices and strategies based on both survey findings and literature review including any relevant recommendations that may arise from the study (such as implications to shuttle service and non downtown tourist shuttle operations).


IV.    Project Schedule/Milestones 

Task/Month Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar
Review Literature X X X X X X X X X X X X X X          
Exploratory Information     X X                              
Identify Agencies         X X                          
Survey Instrument           X X                        
Surveys               X X X                  
Tabulation                     X X              
Verifications                         X X          
1st Draft internal review                             X        
2nddraft expert reviews                               X      
3rd draft funder reviews                                 X    
Complete report                                   X  
Annual Report                                     X


V.    Project Budget 

Strategies for an Intra-Urban Circulator System

The Florida Department of Transportation 

Budget Categories

Center Director Salary  
Faculty Salaries


Administrative Staff Salaries


Other Staff Salaries  
Students Salaries


Staff Benefits


Total Salaries and Benefits




Permanent Equipment


Expendable Property/Supplies


Survey Interviews


Domestic Travel


Foreign Travel


Total Direct Costs


Indirect Costs


Total Costs



VI.    Student Involvement 

Graduate students will play a role in the research and data collection as well and the analysis and report writing.  Other anticipated student benefits will include synthesis of information and technology transfer support.


VII.    Relationship to Other Research Projects

This research project stems from a technical support project for St. Petersburg and Sarasota TMA trolley services.  On the St. Petersburg project, the focus has been on reviewing existing operations data to identify strategies for both project management improvement and service effectiveness.  For the Sarasota project, the focus has been on exploring the trolley’s relationship with parking policies.  Similar interest stems from a previous review of circulator systems operations around the country and Europe while developing Tri-Met’s service plan for a potential tourist transit service in downtown Portland, Oregon.

Another previous local survey compiled by Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) based on data supplied by CUTR in 2001 attempted to document select characteristics of downtown oriented tourist and transit services in Florida along with similar select services around the country.  However, the focus was on descriptive features in a matrix format featuring fares, ridership, service hours, frequency, destinations, the type of vehicles and funding sources.  No attempt was made to study both development and operational strategies.

In spite of the heavy tourist oriented transit service designs of several Florida downtowns, currently, there is no comprehensive documentation about development and operational strategies for such services.  Similarly, while there have been a number of studies looking into circulator related systems around the country, there has been limited focus on developing a synthesis of existing trolley systems.

One such study was the 1999 TCRP Report 55: Guidelines for Enhancing Suburban Mobility Using Public Transportation, which focused on suburban connection system rather than a downtown circulator. Another similar study, Memphis Trolley System: Transportation Link and Development Tool focused on the effects of the circulator system on downtown development.  However, the Seattle Circulation Study (1997) conducted by SDOT, which focused on downtown circulation mainly dealt with coordination of various traffic modes such as ways for improving transit, pedestrian and bicycle circulation within downtown Seattle.

Unlike these other studies, this proposal will focus on strategies for an intra-urban trolley circulator system.  The study will further identify key characteristics for developing an effective trolley system as well as critical operating strategies.  The final product will provide general guidelines from which individual Florida communities and others across the country or elsewhere can develop systems unique to their needs.


VIII.    Technology Transfer Activities/Peer Review

This research project is designed to increase the knowledge of public transit officials, city planners, transportation demand management professionals, and downtown developers about strategies for developing an effective downtown circulator. Any documentation that is prepared will be made available at conferences in Florida through independently scheduled and funded training sessions. Information will also be made available through the NCTR website as a streaming media presentation and report, TDM Review, the quarterly publication of ACT, TRB and APTA publications and other related venues.


IX.     Potential Benefits of the Project

The study will be widely applicable in determining the effectiveness of a downtown circulator and will therefore primarily benefit circulator system operators, downtown businesses and developers and urban area policy makers.  However, other organizations such as advocates for growth management, new urbanism, transportation demand management and other transportation related organizations stand to benefit from the implications of the results.  The finding will enhance downtown parking strategies as well as providing a resource guide for providing service to both downtown employees and visitors. Similarly, other partial benefits are anticipated to accrue to the research community in terms of modeling and analysis.


X.    TRB Keywords 

Circulator System

Commuter Assistance Programs

Parking Strategies

Public Transit Service

Rider Benefits

Transportation Demand Management 


National Center for Transit Research · at the Center For Urban Transportation Research · University of South Florida · 4202 E. Fowler Ave., CUT100 · Tampa, FL 33620-5375 · (813) 974-3120 · (813) 974-5168 · · Comments: